Lunchtime Episode

I just had an enlightening experience.  I was sitting in my car in the church parking lot, eating, reading my book, had already had a nap and sat back up and was reading some more when this car pulls up in front of me with a black dude in it.  He parks right in front of me not five feet away.  A whole large parking lot and you stop there, I think.  He gets out of his car with a plastic bag.  Shuts his door.  Walks towards me.  I reach over and double check my locks and hear them click into place.  He heard it too.  I give him this, “What-you-think-you-gonna-do-Mister?” look as he walks towards me.  He says, “How you doing ma’am, I’m just here to pick up pecans” and bends over and starts doing just that. 

I am immediately embarrassed.  I open my door, look up, and sure enough, that explained all the thumps and thuds that kept hitting my car as I sat there.  I’d looked up once earlier and saw the round looking things up there and thought I was under one of those trees – Sycamore? – that has those little burry things that fall.  But I never did bother to look to see exactly what they were.  So I got out and started picking up a few, knowing there were people living right across the street that were home so I felt safe enough. 

 I admitted to him that he’d scared me getting out of his car with his bag.  He didn’t laugh, he just said, “Oh yeah?” in a tone of voice that I could tell he didn’t think that I was funny at all.  I know he was thinking it was because he was black, but seriously, had he been a white man, getting out of the car, holding a plastic bag which I at first thought might have a gun or some bludgeon tool in it, could he blame me for being a bit wary?   It was an old beat up car at that, and he wasn’t exactly dressed for success either –  but who is on their day off? 

 We got to talking about pecan pies and cakes, and folks in his family up north whom he sends them to, and come to find out, he works at the PCA mill on the northside– for 28 years – and I used to work there also when it was GP.   I tell him where I work now.  We share names and he laughs and says, “Which ‘M” boy are you married to?” and I said Tim.  He knows both the brothers.  Graduated from high school with Tim’s sister, Deb, he tells me.  A little short girl, yup. 

The thing is, the whole time we’re standing there, I kept thinking about how I thought he was somebody he obviously was not.  I feel ashamed of myself for giving him my “bad-ass look” as my brothers call it.  I know it’s better to be safe than sorry and I’d lock those doors again in the same situation.  This is what the world has come to though.  Broad daylight, right in public, and a person can’t sit in their car reading without some sort of fear; or another person can’t get out of their car holding a harmless plastic bag, without someone else thinking wrongly of them.

 When I think back to how safe I always felt in our neighborhood growing up, it saddens me that things have gotten so bad now.  We played all over the streets at night and our parents only called us in when it was time to go to bed.  We walked everywhere we went and we didn’t have phones.  We rode our bikes without helmets.  You get the picture…

 He is a nice man, he grew up in my era, and I immediately distrusted him.  He grew up in this town and I did not.  I hope if we meet again, we can smile this time and say a friendly hello. 

It’s hard not to ‘judge a book by its cover’ …but unfortunately…sometimes you just do.

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